Movie Review: The American Scream

I know the review is probably coming a day late, but I at least watched this Halloween documentary last night.

The American Scream focuses on three households in a small Massachusetts town, all within several blocks of each other, who go crazy around Halloween time.  They all build elaborate haunted house set-ups in their backyards, and let their entire neighborhood enjoy it free of charge.  One guy is a perfectionist, and builds the most elaborate, high-end “haunt” (as they call it).  The second guy almost pays for nothing, and builds his haunt from items he finds at junkyards and/or gets for free, using pure inventive craftsmanship.  And the third guy(s) are an oddball father/son duo who don’t exactly make a very good haunt, but their hearts are in the right place.

The film, at its core, is less about the actual construction of the haunts as it is about the personal relationships formed with the guys building them.  The first guy puts his family through hell for a couple of months leading up to Halloween, putting in tons of money, and making sacrifices that would benefit his family just so he can do this every year.  But his family goes along with it, almost unquestionably.  Not out of fear or anything (everyone in this documentary is super nice and likable), but just because they love the guy.  He’s the dad.  He gets hyper-focused on Halloween and they embrace it, and encourage it.  The whole family pitches in and does their part to make everything awesome, and the documentary becomes much more about the family bond; with zombies and vampires showing up just on the surface level.  The third guy is best friends with his dad, and while the stuff they build appears to be crappy, at least it strengthens their relationship.  And the second guy hopes to pass the Halloween knowledge on to his kids one day.

But there is plenty of Halloween covered as well.  Seeing the craftsmanship put into these haunts is pretty spectacular.  I’ve always been fascinated by the ability some dudes have to just build shit in their garages from scratch.  They aren’t even builders or designers as their profession.  But, somehow, they can take some pipes, some aluminum foil, some paint, and some plaster; and make like an 8-foot-tall mummy out of it.  It’s just interesting to see these guys work.

The film also made me feel good that Halloween still *exists*.  In the neighborhood where I grew up, trick-or-treating was awesome when I was a kid.  We would wander the streets, get candy, have a ton of fun, and it was all very loose and exciting.  My parents were just like “Yeah, whatever, have fun.  Just get your candy and don’t go in anyone’s house or walk away with some stranger.  You’ll be fine.”  Nowadays, fear is 1000x more rampant.  Parents won’t let their kids go out alone.  Kids aren’t allowed to go to houses of people they don’t know.  Halloween starts at like 6 pm, and ends at 7 pm.  The other day I saw a sign in front of a church that was a having a “Trunk or Treat”…  Not knowing what that was, my girlfriend informed me that they set up a bunch of cars in the church parking lot and kids just get candy handed out from the trunks of the cars.  HOW LAME IS THAT?!  I remember my Mom told me last Halloween that maybe just three or four kids came to their door asking for candy.  So, to me, it appeared as if trick-or-treating was kind of dead.

But in the neighborhood in The American Scream, there are hundreds of people trick-or-treating.  It made it appear to me as if, somewhere, Halloween was still an awesome holiday for kids, and not just an excuse for adults to dress up as sexy Gizmo and get wasted.

And the haunts that the guys create in this documentary create a real sense of community.  They aren’t getting paid to do it, and they don’t charge anyone to go through their haunts.  They just do it to create the memory of an awesome experience that kids will remember about Halloween.  The second guy even tells us about the time he had a heart attack and didn’t think that he could build his haunt that year, then the community rose up and helped him build it because they loved experiencing it each year.  And at the end of the documentary when they show the hundreds of people actually enjoying the haunts, you totally get why they do this stuff.  It looks like everyone is having the time of their lives.  Building these haunts are a selfless charity for the kids of the community, and it’s a great charity at that.

This is a very brisk documentary at around 90 minutes, and it flies by.  It provides a ton of detail into why these guys do what they do, how they do it, and the impact it has on everything.  I wish maybe they explored a little deeper into the overall phenomenon of haunts, as they only touch upon it for a couple of minutes and it was very interesting, but I understand why they chose to keep it focused on the three families.  Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in a quirky documentary with funny interview subjects and a surprising amount of heart.  It’s available on Netflix streaming right now!

8.5 out of 10


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